When Children's Nicknames Become Bullying

Nicknames that many children use to joke with their peers can end up becoming bullying. When a kid doesn't stop using it to be hurtful, it's no longer a joke.
When Children's Nicknames Become Bullying

Last update: 28 June, 2021

Children’s nicknames  often have no negative intention, but sometimes those that receive them can feel bullied. Nicknames, in most cases, attempt to highlight a physical or behavioral defect, and can upset and offend the recipient, and there are children who use them to laugh and hurt others. When done continuously, this can end up becoming bullying.

What consequences can nicknames have on children? When do nicknames end up becoming bullying? What can be done in this situation? Continue reading to find out more.

Consequences of children’s nicknames

Although these nicknames, in principle, don’t intend to cause bullying or harm, they often produce negative consequences.

When Children's Nicknames Become Bullying

Some of these consequences may be:

  • School failure. Children with nicknames end up being the object of laughter, lose interest in studying, and don’t want to go to school.
  • Low self-esteem. A nickname labels the child and they end up becoming it, that is, they take it as an identity. For this reason, children begin to have a distorted and negative image of themselves.
  • Passive attitude toward the harasser. They no longer care about anything or anyone; they take a passive attitude toward everyone.
  • Can lead to depression. Children feel bad, stop wanting to do things, lose interest in everything they liked, trust no one, can stop eating or, on the contrary, binge eat, and don’t want to go out on the street.
  • A phobia appears. Phobia to leave home, go to school; excessive fear of almost everything.
  • Trouble sleeping. Nightmares, night terrors, insomnia, etc.

When do children’s nicknames become bullying?

Many cases of bullying nowadays go unnoticed because sometimes harmful nicknames aren’t perceived. This is because it’s difficult to differentiate between a light-hearted nickname and an offensive nickname.

When kids use nicknames as a social exchange, they learn how to manage constructive criticism and deal with it. Normally, when used to joke with a friend, it’s more affectionate and is taken by the other in a positive way. In this case, there’s no harassment, as the nickname is used as a form of communication in their peer group and is harmless.

Things change and become a problem when the nickname is no longer a form of communication and is used to hurt and make the “victim” feel bad, and the bully ends up with more power.

How can you distinguish between a nickname used for a joke from another used for harm?

  • If the child uses a negative joke and it annoys the recipient, the joker usually stops. In this case, the nickname is a joke.
  • If this nickname continues to be used and the intention is to hurt and frighten the recipient, it’s no longer a joke and becomes bullying.

What can we do in this situation?

In the age of social media, bullying can often happen on these platforms. It’s difficult for parents to prevent kids from calling our children by a derogatory nickname.

We can’t control or change their behavior, but what we can do is teach our children to change the way they react to these nicknames so that “jokers” no longer find it fun. Let’s see some things we can do.

Communicate more with our child

Communicating with your child is critical. Ask them some questions to see what their situation is, such as:

  • Who gave you the nickname?
  • How do you feel about it?
  • How do you think you’ve been given that nickname?
  • Have you told them you don’t like them calling you that?
  • How do you respond to it?

With these questions, we’ll know if the nickname is part of a joke among friends or something else.

When Children's Nicknames Become Bullying

Tell them they’re special, unique, and one of a kind

We’re all different and unique. No-one is superior to another person, neither for what you have nor for what you are.

Teach them to be assertive

When they’re called by the nickname, they need to be assertive and not let it affect them. They also need the mental strength to tell their peers they don’t like it and not to use it. They must use a quiet, but firm tone of voice.

Give them the confidence to ask for help

If, despite implementing these strategies, it continues, they need to know that they have our help and can trust us.

Help them build their self-esteem

Most nicknames highlight something particular about a physical aspect of the person or child receiving it. Therefore, it’s important that we make young children understand that their personal characteristics and traits are what make them unique and special, and help them strengthen their self-esteem.

About children’s nicknames as a form of harassment

Now you know how nicknames in children can become bullying and what parents can do to improve this situation and assess whether it’s friendly or something more harmful.

It’s very important to be aware of any changes in our child’s behavior that may indicate that something’s wrong. Above all, in order to help our children, we must communicate with them.



All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Olweus, D. (1998). Conductas de acoso y amenazas entre escolares. Madrid: Morata.
  • Matamala, A., Huerta, E. (2005). El maltrato entre escolares. Técnicas de autoprotección y defensa emocional. Para alumnos, padres y educadores. Madrid: A. Machado Libros

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.